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Analysis: With Insults and Hyperbole, Schiff and Nadler Choose Resistance Theater Over Persuasion

The media's reviews of lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff's arguments in favor of removing President Trump from office were almost uniformly glowing -- rapturously so, in certain cartoonish cases.  And, indeed, the case he built was often eloquent and powerful, if not fully convincing to those of us who are skeptical of both the propriety of the president's conduct and impeachment as a remedy (see the Bolton update below).  But both Schiff -- who ironically won his first House race as an impeachment critic -- and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler gave away the game by indulging in 'Resistance' theatrics at the expense of appealing to persuadable members of the Senate jury.  Nadler (whose family should be in our prayers) was the worse and clumsier offender on this front, engaging in alienating shaming and ridiculous hyperbole:

Senators in both parties voiced concern over the fiery rhetoric used by both house prosecutors and the president's counsel and the possibility that the remarks had turned off key moderate Republicans who will decide whether new witnesses are heard from during President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.  One of those key moderate senators, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters she was "offended" by Rep. Jerry Nadler's remarks Tuesday evening after he accused the president's defense team was lying and said senators would be complicit in a coverup if they shot down calls to hear from John Bolton, Trump's former national security advisor. The president's defense team shot back, demanding that Nadler apologize and that he should be "embarrassed."  "I took it as very offensive," Murkowski told CNN. "As one who is listening attentively and working hard to get to a fair process, I was offended." The testy back-and-forth resulted in Chief Justice John Roberts admonishing both house managers and the president's counsel...

Despite eliciting an admonishment from the Chief Justice (apparently prompted by Sen. Collins, at least in part), Nadler decided to go down in a blaze of bombastic glory:

Say what you will about Trump -- he is not remotely a "dictator."  He is the duly-elected president.  He is, and has been, constrained by our constitutional institutions.  His continued service will be extended or ended by voters later this year.  Also, real dictators typically are not brought to trial by a co-equal branch of government. And opponents are generally rather reluctant to publicly label true dictators as such, especially on national television, from the floor of the legislature.  But Nadler was playing to a crowd, and did so ham-fistedly.  By contrast, Schiff was more polished, more focused and more subtle.  He marshaled a number of potent arguments and laid them out cleverly.  But his missteps were also telling and costly.  Casting doubt on the freeness and fairness of American elections, for instance, is outrageous:

This is at least partially a reference to Trump's reckless and foolish comments welcoming foreign interference in 2016.  But it's also a suggestion that a Trump re-election outcome would somehow be illegitimate.  The United States conducted a legitimate election when Trump won in 2016, then conducted a legitimate election when Democrats gained 40 House seats in 2018, and will conduct another legitimate election this year.  To suggest otherwise is disgraceful.  And then there was this:

Schiff said Friday, “CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’ I don’t know if that’s true.” He then asked his Senate colleagues to vote with “moral courage” rather than in their political self-interest. “That’s not true,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) shouted from her seat Friday night. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters minutes later that Schiff “was going fine with moral courage until he got to ‘head on a pike.’ That’s where he lost me.”

Suggesting that GOP Senators -- especially swing votes who've been especially attentive -- aren't operating in good faith certainly seems like an efficient way to turn them off.  That said, the 'head on a pike' controversy does feel a tad overblown.  It was an unforced error by Schiff, to be sure, but his bigger problem is a credibility crisis that predates the trial.  Here's a member of Trump's legal team scratching the surface of this point:

In addition to his baseless, grandiose boasts about evidence of Trump-Russia collusion that were contradicted by the Mueller report (this unto itself is a very big deal), Schiff has frequently undermined his own trustworthiness.  Some additional examples:  (1) Being awarded 'Four Pinocchios' over mischaracterizing his handling of the whistleblower, (2) inventing a fictionalized version of the Trump-Zelensky transcript at the outset of an impeachment hearing, (3) apparently bungling a key piece of evidence by wrongly conflating two people, and (4) getting his famous "counter memo" on FISA abuses and the Steele dossier thoroughly gutted by the Horowitz report.  One might dismiss items one through three as a combination of honest mistakes, rhetorical excess, and too-cute-by-half parsing or sarcasm.  But Schiff's high-decibel posturing on "collusion," and the falsehoods promulgated in his response to Devin Nunes' 2018 memo constitute fatal strikes against his broader credibility.  His performance on the Senate floor last week did not come in a vacuum and cannot be shorn of other context.

As for the president's defense team, I'd find them much more effective if they were permitted to jettison their boss's 'perfect call/nothing wrong' spin.  If they conceded some poor judgment and conduct that shouldn't have happened in the process of contending that impeachment is an abusive, partisan, and inappropriate response, that could go a long way toward winning over voters who find themselves among the large supermajority of Americans who believe Trump at least did something unethical vis-a-vis Ukraine.  That said, they were pretty effective at knocking down a number of elements of the impeachment managers' case, and did so fairly succinctly -- also a smart move:

I'll leave you with one result from the Washington Post/ABC News poll we cover in greater depth later today (which was in the field prior to the Bolton development):

Independents oppose removal by nine points.  The RCP average shows opposition to removing Trump from office very narrowly edging out support.  The broad, bipartisan consensus required for an impeachment process that's widely viewed as justified and fair simply does not exist.  The last major wrinkle on the (still) nearly-inevitable path to acquittal is forthcoming Senate votes on additional witnesses, the calling of which is highly popular.  I've stated my desire to hear from figures like John Bolton (ahem, refer to the update below) and Hunter Biden in some capacity, but it's more than fair to point out this paradoxical argument from Democrats:

And finally, I'm not sure this messaging will be terribly helpful in refuting the GOP accusation that the entire impeachment enterprise is a thinly-disguised political effort to negate the previous election, or at least influence the next one:

UPDATE - Sunday night brought the revelation that former National Security Adviser John Bolton has written in a forthcoming book that President Trump directly told him of his plan to freeze Congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine until the government in Kiev played ball on the (almost certainly politically-motivated) investigations Trump desired.  If confirmed, this would complete the circle on an attempted quid pro quo that once again strikes me as an abuse of power.  Bolton would be the missing link to confirm what many -- including pro-impeachment Democrats -- have assumed to have been the case all along.  The quid pro quo failed when the administration got caught.  To repeat, if confirmed (confusing sentences like this give me pause), I believe this would be serious misconduct that is arguably impeachable, even though I remain unsold on that 'nuclear' repercussion.  It would certainly buttress my call for a presidential censure.  This development also further underscores why I believe the "perfect call/nothing wrong" talking point is so flawed.  

That said, I don't believe this additional fact would lead to a conviction and removal, and may not sway any senate votes at all.  But I do not see how one would reasonably argue against hearing from Bolton under oath in some capacity at this point, given his public offer and what he's apparently preparing to publish in a book.  I want more information before making many major new judgments, and Bolton can furnish some of that information.  This will complicate matters considerably for Republican Senators and the president's defense team.  And while much focus will be fixed on what the Senate will do, this observation is undeniably true.  House Democrats' shoddy, rushed, politically-timed process was such a miscalculation:

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